Ticks are parasites that feed off the blood of their hosts. The American dog tick and the brown dog tick are two common types likely to latch onto your puppy. These arachnids can cause all sorts of problems for your pooch, so it's important to frequently check her for ticks and to promptly remove them using an appropriate technique. This minimizes the risk of complications like disease transmission and anemia.
Blood Loss Anemia
Ticks can cause weakness in puppies via blood loss anemia. Weakness and other symptoms result from lack of adequate oxygenation caused by too low a red blood cell count. An individual tick is unlikely to consume enough blood to cause anemia. However, infestation with multiple ticks is much more of a concern, and the longer ticks feed from their host, the greater the chronic blood loss and chances of weakness and associated problems. Also, the smaller and younger the puppy, the more at risk she is of losing too much blood to external parasites.
Weakness is a hallmark symptom of blood loss anemia, and it may manifest as difficulty with physical activity, loss of interest in play and socialization or inability to move larger toys or items. Your puppy may also become generally lethargic. She may lose her appetite and the mucous membranes of her tongue and gums may pale, typically becoming light pink to white. Severe blood loss anemia also often raises the heart rate or causes a murmur, and an afflicted puppy may collapse or lose consciousness. Untreated, blood loss anemia can be fatal.
To remedy weakness from blood loss anemia, the bleeding must first be stopped. Remove ticks by grasping them right at the surface of the skin with tweezers, or use a commercial tick removal implement and follow the package instructions. If you're using tweezers, pull ticks out with a steady, straight motion; don't twist or squeeze them or try to irritate them with a flame, rubbing alcohol or other tactics. Drop the tick into isopropyl alcohol to kill it once it's removed. See your veterinarian promptly. He'll advise you as to whether your pup needs nutritional supplementation or other support to aid recovery. Severe blood loss anemia may require a blood transfusion, though this is an unlikely scenario with ticks.
While weakness and other effects of blood loss are a concern with puppies, other complications are possible, too. Some are minor, like itching or irritation at the sites of bites. Ticks also transmit infectious diseases like Rocky Mountain spotted fever, ehrlichiosis and probably the best known, Lyme disease. Females of certain tick species also pass along a toxin in their saliva that causes a condition called tick paralysis. The toxin can affect your puppy's nervous system, leading to paralysis. Weakness may also manifest during the progression to paralysis. Other symptoms include vomiting, hypertension, accelerated or irregular heartbeat, poor reflexes, excessive drooling, excessive pupil dilation and megaesophagus.
Eric Mohrman has been a freelance writer since 2007, focusing on travel, food and lifestyle stories. His creative writing is also widely published. He lives in Orlando, Florida.